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Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010 01:37 pm

Energy-saving tips and tricks: Day Four

Did you catch my mallards story in today's paper? I hope so. I had a lot of fun writing and researching it. Who knew people studied ducks so intensely?

Anyway, here's Tip #4: use a humidifier.

As I'm sure you know, everything dries out in the winter: your skin, your sinuses and even the air in your home. While some of us (especially those of us from Michigan - a state where the average July day makes you feel like you're swimming through a tepid pool of water) may be excited about this, lack of humidity can cause your heating bills to skyrocket.

The good thing about humidity is that it can make you feel warmer in the winter. According to WE Energies, our homes need between 20 and 40 percent humidity levels.

With the proper humidity level, you’ll be able to turn your thermostat down to a lower temperature, save energy and still feel comfortable.

Humidifiers come in all kinds of colors/shapes/styles these days. A lot of people think they're ugly, and I remember my mom having one in the early 90s that was a hideous beige box. But now you can get them in cute shapes, like frogs and pandas and dragons. If that's a little too twee for you (and if you're not perpetually 13 years old like me), you can get basic ones at Meijer or Target. I think Vick's Vapo Rub even has ones that spit their signature vapor when you're sick.

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(I don't care, I love this frog! He's my favorite color and I want him to be my humidity-inducing bff. The duck, though, is another story. I think he'd kill me in my sleep.)

Now I know what some of you are thinking. "How am I saving energy if I'm buying another item I have to plug in?" That's true, I won't deny it. However, you don't need to run a humidifier very long to see the difference. We ran ours for about an hour each night, or when it was particularly dry. Some people leave them on while sleeping, but it's ultimately your call. Plus, most shut down when the water runs out.

Plus there are major long-term benefits. No more static shocks every time you open your closet door. No more dried out nasal passages. (I hate this! It gives me a headache all day.) No more cranking the thermostat because you just can't get comfortable. I know when it's dry I drink water all day long and still never feel refreshed. I get tired and sluggish and spend 30 minutes contemplating getting off my couch for another ice cube. It's the worst.

And if you can't afford a humidifier, you can just boil a pan of water with the lid off until it runs out. This will make steam and circulate it throughout your house. It's not fancy, but it works.

Come back tomorrow for the final tip. It'll be Friday, I know you'll be procrastinating at work.

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